Secretary of Commerce offers tips to success

Published 10:24 am Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Community members pray before having a meal at the 16th annual Franklin Community Leadership Breakfast. -- Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Community members pray before having a meal at the 16th annual Franklin Community Leadership Breakfast. — Cain Madden | Tidewater News

After hearing Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones speak at the 16th annual Franklin Community Leadership Breakfast, Franklin’s mayor said she was excited to get back to work on economic development.

“I think it was good for not only the city to get introduced to a state secretary, but also to hear things about our economic development, and how it functions, and what impacts eco-development,” Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn said, “and what we should do as individuals and as a locality.”

Jones said Virginia, which boasts a top five school system in the country as a state, has heavy employment numbers in technology industries and is ahead of the curve with its port, as the Panama Canal is set to be widened in 2016. He also lauded the community college system and the higher education institutions.

“We are incredibly blessed to live in the commonwealth,” Jones said. “On our worse days, try to remember that.”

There are challenges, however. The state has one of the best unemployment rates in the Southeast, but Jones said the rate is unacceptably high amongst young people and black males.

The state is also too dependent on the public sector. The No. 1 employer is the defense department, and 13 of the top 20 employers are dependent on the public sector, such as the Newport News Shipyard, which builds ships for the government exclusively.

“How many football fans are here? Do we have any Denver Broncos fans?” Jones asked, and to his surprise, there were two in the audience, so he added with a laugh, “That’s the largest group of Broncos fans I’ve seen.

“I ask you, then, what happens if Peyton Manning has a bad day, can the Broncos win?”

The two Broncos fans in attendance gave a resounding “No!” Of course, if Manning has a good day, Jones said the Broncos are pretty tough to beat. Similarly, he said that if the public sector had a good day then Virginia cannot be defeated. However, he said that if the public sector has a bad day, “Virginia faces a bad day,” drawing out the ah-sound in bad.

“That doesn’t mean we have to turn away from the federal government — not at all,” he said. “It just means we need to grow more balance.”

In Franklin, Jones said the situation holds true, with the majority of the top five owing a dependance to the public sector. Southampton Memorial Hospital is the largest employer, and the remainder of the top five are the Franklin City Public Schools, Walmart, Paul D. Camp Community College and the City.

In good news, Jones said Virginia is estimated to create 1.5 million jobs over the next decade. To put a community in good condition to get those jobs, there are five steps to focus on.

The first is making sure the infrastructure is world-class, and in particular pointing out broadband Internet.

“Without it, it’s hard to grow jobs and business,” Jones said. “It’s hard to help folks working out of their homes, trying to launch a business without broadband access.”

The second is to make sure that the community is helping people who want to start their own businesses with resources, such as what the Franklin Business Incubator does.

“You want to put people around them, coaches, space and access to resources around the area, so they can launch their own business,” he said.

The third deals with government — less of it.

“Keep taxes low, keep regulations off their backs, and you have to have incentives,” Jones said.

The fourth area is to not just try to work with companies that provide jobs, but companies that provide good wages.

“It is not about putting resources behind those companies that are going to produce more jobs, but about those that are going to produce jobs that people need to pay their bills, to pay their children’s education, to pay their mortgage, etc.,” Jones said.

The fifth, he said, is education. And not necessarily just the traditional path of high school to a four-year college.

“We have done a disservice by telling folks that you have to get a four-year degree or you will be nothing,” Jones said. “That’s not true.”

Of the 1.5 million jobs estimated to come, more than half of them will not require a four-year degree. But they will require that people graduate from high school, and are set up for some post-secondary education, such as earning an associate’s degree or a certificate from an institution such as Paul D. Camp Community College.

One of the best examples in the area, Jones said, is the Lipton Tea facility in Suffolk. There are 375 robots and 375 people working together to package 1 million bags of tea a day.

“These are good paying jobs — people are coming from Chesapeake, North Carolina, Franklin, Southampton and Isle of Wight to work there,” he said. “And the Shipyard will hire you today if you have that welding certification — they are looking for people.”

In middle school, Jones said communities needed to better educate children that there are multiple paths to success.

“For some, it might be that four-year degree, but for others it might be a certification, and they can start working on that in high school,” he said.

Jones said that as a community, as individuals, you have to fight to make sure Franklin is resilient. There will be tough days, he said, but there will also be good days if you work for it.

“Fight to have better schools, fight homelessness, fight for our seniors, fight to make sure everybody has insurance and that they have access to quality health care,” he said. “Success is not a poem or a destination or an end — it is a journey.

“And it is a journey that you will never finish. This issue is, will we keep fighting?”

The annual breakfast, aiming to bring the Southampton and Franklin community organizations together, is organized by the Franklin Tri-County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., and the Franklin Department of Parks and Recreation Sportsman’s Society.